Like to Crack Codes? The Mystery of 1970s Football Cello Pack Production

by Unopened Pack Guy

As a collector of unopened packs, I am fascinated by the stories behind them. Some of the most fascinating always end up with; “this test issue was only available in limited quantities in a candy store in Brooklyn, NY”.

Historically, Topps did some odd things in terms of production, be it producing Test Issues or testing price increases for their cards.  Today, many of these production issues are still a mystery to us but they were once very operationally relevant to Topps.

From time to time, I like to review my database of production codes to try to decipher these hidden stories of what Topps was doing and why they did it.  Recently, I came across another potential code cracking mystery that is just begging to be solved.

Why did Topps Football have 2 different production codes which overlapped for not 1 but 2 years of their football cello pack production?

While it is not all that common, it is not unheard of for Topps to use 2 slightly different production codes for the same product in one year. Assuming the series, price and promotions are the same, the indication would be that Topps probably ran out of packaging and had to produce another run.  That may make sense for ONE year but why did they do that for TWO years?

It seems that Topps Football used 2 cello wrappers that overlapped (no pun intended) during 1974 and 1975.  The first wrapper had a production code of 0-381-58-01-2.  This was used on cellos from 1972 through 1975.  However, there was another code of 0-381-54-01-4, which was also used on cellos from 1974 through 1977.  

Looking for Clues

Here’s what we do know…  Every Topps production code had 9 digits.  The 5th and 6th digits of the production code related to the wrapper code.  Looking at the two cello wrappers in question, we notice the first one has 58 while the second shows 54.  What changed with the wrapper?

1970s Topps football cello packsFirst place to look would be to check the wrapper graphics.  Unfortunately, that does not seem to offer us any clues.  All the football cello wrappers from 1972 to 1977 show the same things – yellow football shape, outlined in white with the word football cards in red capital letters with a price of 25 cents.  Even the part with the production code aligns on the right side of the cello pack.  …but wait, notice the difference where the 25 cent price sits in relation to the graphic.  Was that it?

Was this so impactful, that it was enough to warrant a separate production run?  Was there a change in the wrapper quality or did the seal somehow change or is there something completely different that was responsible for the new production line?

The last thought is usually the default answer to any mystery with Topps, everything they did, they did to maximize profits.  Therefore we can be sure that at least one of the reasons they ran a second production line had to do with their bottom line.

The Unopened Pack Guy is a long-time collector who specializes in unopened packs and pack research.  You can read more about his unopened pack insight on his eBay About Me page.